This may not be an appropriate New Year’s blog for some, but for others, like myself, despair is felt most intensely in contrast to the hype, consumerism, and emotional demands of the holiday season. But, regardless of the season, disrupting cycles of despair is an important topic. Is it possible to live and never linger in despair? I don’t think so. The Oxford Dictionary defines despair as “The complete absence or loss of hope.” I have known this hopelessness, and it has known me. As a contemplative person who wrestles with the “why’s” of life, despair has often had an easy trek to my innermost being. Despair makes my introverted tendencies toxic, and I isolate myself for lack of interest or energy. Despair introduces loss and futility to mock what I am trying to achieve, while capitalism demands more of my dreams than what is in my coffers.
I know faith; it’s how I changed my life. I know the hope that contends with despair. I know that purpose can redefine futility while joy can sustain the soul, and although these virtues don’t need rest, those who rely on them to rise above the madness do. And we often need concrete ways to embody these virtues. This list of ways to disrupt cycles of despair is not exhaustive. I am not a licensed therapist, nor have I mastered all of these practices, but I’ve overcome enough to share them with you.
Engaging the Unconscious/Subconscious Mind:
- Remember Who You Are. I believe we are more than animated dirt or repurposed dust, so part of how I disrupt my despair is by remembering that I am a multi-dimensional being and re-engaging in spiritual praxis. This belief doesn’t make me impervious to what it means to be human, I still know what hopelessness feels like, but it does offer me a hope that transcends what cannot be fully understood. However, not everyone believes this way, so there are many ways to remember who we are; this includes expanding our consciousness, taking care of our bodies, and purposeful, creative living. (Benevolent moral authority, stoicism, and humanism are philosophies/concepts to explore)
- Pay Attention to Self-Talk. So many of us have unhealthy mantras we’ve been reciting for years, i.e., “I can’t do this.” “I’m not qualified.” “I’m fat.” “This is pointless.” “I’m not worthy.” Replace these unhealthy mantras with positive statements that energize and affirm you. Reprogramming the mind takes work, so be intentional about reading, listening, and conversing about your aspirations.
- Be Gracious with Yourself. Don’t use the world’s rigid standards to process a new way forward. Comparing ourselves with the rigid standards of the world fuels despair because those standards are unrealistic and often imaginary. It’s necessary to learn from others, but in doing so, remember that your journey is your journey. Celebrate your uniqueness and allow it to help you find your true north.
- Read. Reading allows us to see ourselves and the world around us in new and invigorating ways. Turn the TV off and spend some leisure time reading. What we choose to read can be something other than what is familiar to us; let’s try reading books that expand our thinking and offer perspectives that may challenge our own.
- Quiet Time. I intentionally create pockets of solitude several times a day; it gives me time to listen for any unhealthy mantras shaping my experience. Quiet time also allows me to unplug from the world’s constant chatter and re-evaluate a situation I may be dealing with at the moment. I have even found a bathroom stall to be a place of reprieve on a busy day. Practicing mindfulness is essential to disrupting cycles of despair.
- Therapy. Not everyone, including myself, can always afford a therapist, but having someone to process life with can be beneficial. Friends who share in your despair aren’t usually helpful, so find someone who listens and encourages you but challenges your unhealthy beliefs and behaviors. I have also used journaling as a means of tracking my thoughts when I’ve been unable to find a safe place to land.
- Hydrate & Eat to Live. Drink water, limit sugary drinks, and develop healthy eating habits. I have struggled in this area for years. I have attempted to change my whole diet within weeks, but this has never created sustainable change. I’ve learned to integrate small changes over time, and this comes with the excitement of learning; learning new recipes, learning what foods are real and what foods are not, and learning what makes me feel good in my body. The greatest lesson has been that food is fuel for my body, and I shouldn’t always eat to feel comfort or because something tastes good.
- Limit Alcohol Consumption. Alcohol is a depressant that fuels despair, disrupts sleep patterns, induces fatigue, and ultimately destroys the mind and body.
- Movement. Try to stay active. Exercise changes the way we feel and the way we think. Because it is the beginning of the new year, many of us will jump into some intense regimen, but slow and steady wins the race regarding health and wellness. I am on this journey, too, because I know the benefits of active living and how despair thrives when I am not taking care of myself.
- Cultivate Community. I am introverted by nature or by way of trauma happening in unsafe communities; either way, I have learned to be particular about what I consider a safe community or safe friendships. Although there is wisdom in discernment, I’ve also learned that we are meant to live in community. And so, finding and cultivating a community where we feel safe experiencing new things or even sharing our dis-ease and despair is essential.
- Live Creatively & Courageously. Over the years, I have noticed that despair likes to get me alone, to isolate me within my own headspace. Part of my recovery work has been learning that rehearsing unhealthy mantras is at the center of addiction and every other destructive behavior. When I don’t engage in these practices, despair doubles down on those unhealthy mantras, and they begin to manifest, killing my dreams from within. Living creatively and courageously challenges those unhealthy mantras and exposes them as lies while empowering us to find meaningful ways to live and live well.
These practices are not new, but it sure did feel good writing them down and considering where I am. What are some ways you disrupt cycles of despair? Share your thoughts in the comment section below. I would love to hear from you. Please consider leaving a donation, and thank you for your continued support.